Cast your imagination back to the 19th century… Queen Victoria ruled 400 million people in an empire that covered almost a quarter of the world’s surface!
With a name and title famous across the globe, it may come as a surprise to you that Queen Victoria never actually stepped foot in many of the countries she ruled over.
India was held with such high regard in Victoria’s heart that it became known as the Jewel in the Empire’s crown. In 1876, India awarded her the title of ‘Empress of India’ in a gesture of appreciation.
Although having never stepped foot in the country and living 4,500 miles away, Victoria’s portrait was minted on to the currency of India (the rupee) from 1840, so people could recognise their empress!
The rupee is one of the oldest currencies in the world, so to feature a British monarch for the first time was an important moment in numismatic history.
The later portrait issued on rupees, similar to the Gothic Head effigy, can be considered one of the most beautiful coins of the empire.
A 22hr flight to Australia seems a long journey now but for Queen Victoria, a trip to this corner of the world would have taken her almost two months to get there!
So, there’s no surprises this was also a country that she never visited. However, the need for a British presence in the country was growing with the empire; as the empire grew, so did the need for coins. The Royal Mint opened branches in Australia and in 1855, a sovereign was minted outside of the UK for the first time – the Sydney sovereign.
It featured a portrait of Victoria that was based on the Young Head effigy, but with a sprig of banksia weaved through Victoria’s hair, giving the portrait a distinct Australian feel.
The Sydney sovereign became incredibly successful and a number of Royal Mint branches were opened throughout Australia as a result. To identify the Mint that sovereigns were produced in, mintmarks were added to the coins, with a small ‘P’ for Perth, and an ‘M’ for Melbourne.
The sovereign became legal tender in the majority of British colonies in the 1860s, and its importance in British trade, and worldwide circulation earned it the title “the King of Coins”. By the final years of the British Empire, the sovereign was minted in four continents across the globe.
India and Australia weren’t the only countries that saw Victoria’s portrait. Her image also reached as far as Hong Kong, Ceylon, East Africa and New Zealand. In 1870 the first Canadian dollar with Victoria’s portrait was issued, taking Victoria’s image to a new side of the world for people to see.
Despite never leaving Europe, Queen Victoria’s portrait and image stood strong on coins around the world. Whilst she never stepped foot in many of the countries that she ruled over, that didn’t stop people recognising her image around the world.
The coins that they used every day provided a link to the empire that they were a part of, despite the miles between them.
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Whilst we’re busy celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 50p coin here in the UK, celebrations are also taking place half a world away as Australia marks 50 years since the introduction of the 12-sided 50 cent coin this year.
First issued in 1969 as a replacement for the round 50 cent, the new 12-sided design has since become Australia’s most distinctive decimal coin.
Australia’s first 50 cent
In 1966, as part of the changeover to decimal currency, Australia introduced the round 50 cent, which was made up of 80% silver and 20% copper. This high silver content soon meant that the coin was actually worth more than its face value and so was withdrawn from circulation and replaced with the new 12-sided cupro-nickel design in 1969.
Although the coin was withdrawn from circulation, many millions are thought to have been hoarded by the Australian public and can now be seen listed on eBay for upwards of 10 times the original face value.
Celebrating 50 years since the 12 sided 50 cent
To celebrate the significant anniversary of the introduction of the 12-sided 50 cent, The Royal Australian Mint have released a special commemorative coin set, featuring a Gold-Plated 50 cent coin in celebration of the golden anniversary year.
But the special Gold-Plated coin within this set isn’t the only thing which makes it unique…
This set actually showcases the five effigies of Her Majesty the Queen that have featured on Australia’s 50 cent coins since 1969.
The Gold-Plated 50 cent coin features the very first effigy of Her Majesty the Queen to be used on a 50 cent coin.
Designed by British artist and sculptor Arnold Machin, and approved in 1964, this effigy was first used on the Australian round 1966 50 cent coin, meaning it preceded the first use of this portrait on UK coins in 1968.
This portrait featured on Australia’s coinage from 1966 to 1984.
Raphael Maklouf’s portrait of Queen Elizabeth II was chosen from 17 artists invited by the British Royal Mint to replace Arnold Machin’s portrait.
Unlike the previous portraits of Her Majesty, Maklouf’s design featured the Queen wearing a necklace and earrings. The designer’s initials ‘RDM’ can be seen at the Queen’s neck.
This portrait featured on Australia’s coinage from 1985 to 1997.
The next portrait of Queen Elizabeth was introduced following a competition to redesign the obverse of the UK’s 1997 Golden Wedding Crown. Ian Rank-Broadley’s submission was of such a high standard that it led to a redesign of the obverse for all UK circulation coins in 1998.
It was introduced on Australia’s coinage, including the 50 cent coin, the following year.
This portrait featured on Australia’s coinage from 1999 to 2018.
Amongst the designs submitted into the competition to redesign the obverse of the UK’s 1997 Golden Wedding Crown was Vladimir Gottwald’s portrait of the Queen.
Gottwald’s design was approved as a one-off use to commemorate the Royal visit in 2000, making him the first Australian designer to have his portrait on the obverse of an Australian coin since the 1910-1936 effigy of King George V.
This portrait featured on the Australian 50 cent for one year only in 2000.
Jody Clark’s portrait of Her Majesty the Queen has featured on UK coins since 2015, but it wasn’t until 2018 that an adapted version of this coin was introduced on Australia’s coinage.
Unlike the UK version, this adaptation features Queen Elizabeth’s shoulders, as well as the Victorian coronation necklace.
You might recognise this most recent portrait from British Isles coinage, in particular the highly popular Isle of Man TT £2 coins.
Limited edition set
Just 20,000 of this prestigious set have been minted, making it significantly collectable and ideal for numismatists.
It’s truly fascinating to take a look at the different coinage from countries across the world and the milestone moments in their numismatic history.
I’m sure you’ll agree that this set is a fantastic way for Australia to celebrate this significant anniversary.
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